“The data are consistent with current hypotheses that periodontitis [gum disease] is a cause of systemic inflammation and contributes to early atherosclerosis,” said Maurizio Tonetti, a periodontist and executive director of the European Research Group on Periodontology. However, he said, larger studies must be done in order to order to prove beyond doubt the link between periodontal disease and atherosclerosis.
The study group was composed of 35 subjects. The thickness of their carotid arteries was measured using echocardiography (cardiac ultrasound) both before and after dental cleaning and tartar removal. The participants’ blood was also tested to measure biomarkers that signal inflammation and cardiovascular disease.
Prior to dental treatment, the subjects’ inflammatory biomarkers were abnormally high. However, as early as six months after the treatment, their situation was much improved, with biomarkers down and the thickness of their carotid arteries decreased. “There has never been any demonstration of changes that can be picked up by echo Doppler [a variety of cardiac ultrasound],” said Clerici regarding the novelty of the results.
The researchers surmised that bacteria in the mouth might turn out to be one factor that contributes to inflammation and heart disease, specifically the Porphyromonas gingivalis bacterium. “By taking good care of your teeth and gums, you can not only prevent the development of atherosclerosis, you can also reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease,” Clerici said.